Friday, January 2, 2015
Analyzing the Cap
The past 48 hours have been a field day against the dysfunction pouring out of NovaCare's second floor. A new report surfaces every hour about clashing egos and the future demise of the Chip Kelly era. But, for the purpose of this article, let's just assume Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman can be professionals and co-exist, while continuing to build a winning program in Philadelphia.
The salary cap is never an issue in Philadelphia. Joe Banner was always a wizard at creating flexibility and freedom from a money standpoint, and apparently Howie Roseman took great notes. With the cap number increasing again in 2015, and in-house extensions looming, now is a great time to analyze the current cap situation.
To begin with, the NFL hasn't stated exactly what the 2015 cap number will be. The only thing currently known is it will be somewhere between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. For firm estimates, let's go with a $140 million projection.
Based on current contract obligations, the Eagles have $132,794,000 on the books for 2015. So that's $7.2 million in current spending money. Here's a look at potential cap casualties heading into the new league year. All the information gathered in this article is courtesy of OverTheCap.com. Check it out if you have any free time, it's a very organized, up-to-date website.
Casey is as good as gone. His 2015 cap number is $4 million with $0 guaranteed. He's a solid blocker, but Trey Burton's $510,000 salary is much more suitable for a third-string tight end.
Cole will not be returning at his current $11,625,000 cap number. If the front office is interested in bringing Cole back, which is no sure thing, look for a cap number more in the range of $6-7 million. As Joe Banner said, common belief is paying pass rusher about $1 million per sack, Cole had 6.5 in 2014. There's potential cap savings there of $5 million on a re-structure, or $8.4 million with an outright release.
There have been reports that the team plans to move forward without Cary Williams, which would increase cap space by $6.5 million. The enigmatic cornerback continually suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome, and while his on-field play is decent (had a better opposing QB rating than Patrick Peterson, Keenan Lewis, and Sam Shields), we all know buying into Chip's program carries a lot of weight with personnel decisions.
The Ryans decision will be a tough call. At first glance, it almost seems irresponsible not to release the aging linebacker coming off another torn Achilles who has no guaranteed money left on his contract. Ryans is slated to be the 10th highest paid inside linebacker next season, per OverTheCap.com, at $6.9 million. However Ryans is a tremendous leader on the field and a phenomenal teammate. Extremely tough call, but a big opportunity to create more cap space.
Herremans is the longest tenured Eagle on the roster. He's also a declining player due a hefty salary of $5.2 million. There's a very good chance, however, that Herremans returns at right guard in 2015. Releasing the 32-year-old veteran would only result in $2.8 million in cap savings, which doesn't seem worth opening up another starting hole on the roster.
Celek's status for 2015 in Philadelphia is pretty secure. While his $4.8 million cap number seems a little rich given his limited statistical production, he's another great locker room guy who does the dirty work every Sunday. Chip Kelly has touted Celek as the NFL's best blocking tight end and a vital piece to the Eagles running attack. He should remain in Philadelphia for another year.
With James Casey and Cary Williams likely on other NFL rosters next season and Trent Cole at least headed for a significant pay deduction, the cap space is right around $22.2 million. Releasing DeMeco Ryans could raise that number north of $29 million. Now let's take a look at impending free agent decisions.
NOTABLE FREE AGENT DECISIONS
Maclin is a crucial piece to the offensive puzzle. Chip has already said he wants Maclin back in Philadelphia next year, and Maclin has made it clear this is where he wants to be. To give a good comparison, Vincent Jackson signed a 5 year $55 million contract with Tampa Bay after producing 1,106 yards and 9 touchdowns with San Diego in 2011. Mike Wallace was given a 5 year $60 million deal with Miami after establishing comparable stats to Maclin in Pittsburgh.
Look for Maclin to sign a deal in the ball park of 4 year $42 million. It's unlikely he gets something north of $50 million if Philadelphia can eliminate bidding in the open market. Bottom line: Maclin will almost certainly be back in Philadelphia.
Polk is a valuable bruiser who offers a different dimension to the Eagles running game. Towards the end of the season he saw an increased workload, particularly in the red zone, finishing with five or more carries on five occasions in 2015. With seven touchdowns on only 57 career carries, Polk will surely be offered a tender as a restricted free agent. Right of first refusal, meaning Philadelphia can match any offer Polk agrees to with another team, comes in as a one-year $1.3 million dollar deal.
Thorton is also a restricted free agent. While he isn't much of a pass-rusher, Thorton is an animal versus the run. Per Pro Football Focus, Thorton ranks 12th among 3-4 DEs in run stop percentage, coming in ahead of Haloti Ngata, Justin Smith and Sheldon Richardson. Expect Thorton to also be offered a one-year tender at around $1.3 million.
It makes sense to bring Allen back for a sixth season with Philadelphia. Trusting Chris Maragos or the ever-inconsistent Earl Wolff with the top reserve safety role is a recipe for disaster. Allen offers a great safety net in case a starter goes down. If he doesn't get any starting opportunities, a similar contract to last off-season is fair for both parties; something in the range of one-year $2 million with playing time escalators.
Bringing Matthews back on a minimum contract is generous, yet wise. He's a limited player at best, but offers special teams value and an average "Plan C."
Brandon Graham and Mark Sanchez
I don't see either returning to the Eagles. Sanchez's departure is more obvious, but when breaking down Brandon Graham's opportunities, all signs point to a fresh start for the emerging pass-rusher. His career in Philadelphia can be described as more down than up. He's effective, yet out of place as a stand-up linebacker. His role in Billy Davis' scheme is rotational, and there's surely a 4-3 defense out there willing to give him a starting defensive end job. While his time in Philly can no longer be classified as a bust, it's still likely coming to an end.
Cox is a one-man wrecking crew. On a defense that's lacked a superstar in recent years, Cox is certainly emerging into that role. At age 24, he ranked as Pro Football Focus' 5th overall graded 3-4 defensive end out of 47 qualifying players. The Eagles must lock him up long term sooner rather than later. It's tough to predict what type of deal Cox will sign since his play is clearly dominant, but his stats don't show elite production, collecting only 12.5 sacks in three seasons.
In 2012, Arizona locked up Calais Campbell to a five-year $55 million deal, but that was after an eight sack season. Last off-season, Indianapolis signed DE Arthur Jones to a five-year $33 million contract after a four sack year in Baltimore, the same total Cox had with Philadelphia in 2014. My guess is he lands somewhere in between the two, around five-year $45 million. And since his rookie contract is not likely to be torn up, his cap number will likely remain a team-friendly $3.25 million next season.
Since Chip Kelly has taken over as head coach of the Eagles, Kendricks has piled up 189 tackles, eight sacks, three interceptions, and five forced fumbles. He's a dynamic play-maker. Daryl Washington earned a four-year $32 million extension with Arizona after an electric 2012 campaign. The Cowboys locked up Sean Lee with a six-year $42 million extension in the 2013 off-season.
It's clear Mychal Kendricks has a significant pay raise heading his way, likely this spring. A rough estimate would be something in the range of five-year $33 million. Kendricks will be an Eagle for a very long time. Similar to Cox, it's likely Kendricks' extension will just piggyback onto his rookie deal, keeping his cap number at $1.4 million.
Howie Roseman has $7.2 million in free money heading into free agency. With likely cuts to James Casey and Cary Williams, along with at least a significant re-structuring of Trent Cole's contract, that number should rise to $22.2 million or more. With DeMeco teetering on the chopping block as well, that number may shoot close to $30 million.
The four players likely to return to Philadelphia are Maclin, Polk, Matthews and Thorton. There's also a decent chance Nate Allen will return in some capacity. It's impossible to predict yearly cap numbers for new contracts with the complexity in which they are structured; some are extremely top-heavy, others are heavily back-loaded. It's reasonable to think Howie would have to dedicate about $12 million to those players in 2015, leaving a significant chunk for free agents and extensions.
While the extensions to Cox and Kendricks won't likely kick in until 2016, it's crucial to have wiggle room heading into the future. Even with an NFL cap that is rapidly growing, this front office has consistently left cap room on the table.
Obviously this is an article rich in speculation, however they're pretty educated estimates. As it seems with every off-season, the team is in fine shape financially. There's money available to keep their players off the free agent market, and flexibility to add more talent from the pool. With a cap number that could reach $160 million in 2016, extensions are less restricting on a franchise's future plans. The resources are there, now the front office just has to execute a sound off-season plan.